are plants conscious?

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are plants conscious?
Journal of Conscíousness Studies, 4, No. 3, 1997, pp. 215-30
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ARE PLANTS CONSCIOUS?
Roediger, H.L.
: Evidence
Alexandra H.M. Nagel*
:,tn
Abstract: Views of 'plant consciousness' in the literature
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are classified on a scale ranging
from descriptions of plant phenomena using consciousness as a metaphor, to explicit statements that plants are conscious beings. The idea ofpiant consciousness is far from new, but
it has received a new impetus from recent claims by psychics to communicate with plants.
The literature surveyed is widely scattered and very diverse, but it can teach us much about
the views that various segments ofsociety hold on plant consciousness.
CUP).
Introduction
Are the greenthings of nature, plants, bushes, ferns, trees, mosses, etc., conscious?
Can we even approach this question without knowing what human consciousness is?
Although we don't know what human consciousness is, or how it relates to the brain,
a common assumption is that brains are necessary for consciousness. Since plants do
not have brain tissue, from this viewpoint it is useless to even consider the possibility
of plants being conscious.
The article by Cleve Backster (1968) on the 'primary perception ability' of plants,
and the best selling book The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tomkins & Christopher
Bird (1974) have stimulated popular reconsideration of plant consciousness. Earlier
works had already provoked discussion among scientists, including Nannq, or The
Soul Life of Plants, by the famous German physician and psycho-physicist Gustav
Fechner (1848, reprinted l92l), and work ofthe Indian Jagadis Chander Bose on
plants' sensitivity to injuries (Geddes, 1920; Tompkins & Bird,l974, pp.95-117).
From the 1920's onward, theosophist Geoffrey Hodson (1976;1994) wrote, lectured
and showed paintings ofhis clairvoyant perceptions oftrees and plants.
The idea of plants and trees being more than the mere play of physico-chemical
forces did not die with the end of the Middle Ages, when witches and druids had
knowledge of the esoteric dimension of plant life (Engel, 1978;Vickery, 1995). Still
in a world filled with scientific knowledge, where year afïer year, with no
today
consideration ofplant consciousness, plant sciences gain beautiful insights in plants'
internal physiology, and crop yields improve as results of fertilizer treatments, weed
and pest management, new varieties, mechanization, irrigation and drainage methods
idea that plants and trees might after all be conscious beings rather than merely
-the
living objects is still very widely held. New streams of support are found in New Age
literature. Some people claim to have acquired sensitivity on subtle levels, where they
can feel plants' and trees' energies. These views have been applied in gardening and
agricultural methods, with results convincing them that plant consciousness is a fact.
The purpose of this paper is neither to defend nor to attack such claims, but to
analyse the concept of'plant consciousness' and argue that it ought to be studied
seriously. A debate on the subject is worthwhile either way: if plant consciousness
were shown to exist, it would profoundly affect ail kinds of biological research and
agricultural methods, and open a fascinating aspect ofnature to the plant sciences; on
*
Addr.r, for correspondence: Department of Theoretical Production-ecology, Wageningen
Agricultural University, PO Box 430, 6700 AK Wageningen, TheNetherlands.
A.H.M. NAGEL
216
if it were shown not to exist, an important step would have been taken
towards eradicating an erroneous but still powerful folk-belief.
We should also note that active concern for issues like environmental pollution is
often shown by those believing plants to be conscious organisms. Even though this
belief might not be based on fact, it remains a strong motivation for such people. In
order to understand their response to environmental challenges, it is necessary to
understand their beliefs, including their beliefin plant consciousness.
Plant consciousness is not taken seriously by mainstream scientists, microbiologists, ecologists, ethnobotanists, or scholars of human and animal consciousness, but it is discussed in a wide variety of sometimes obscure publications, often in
superficial or very speculative ways. The present paper is an exploration into this
unknown territory of sometimes peculiar, and poorly investigated aspects of plant life
aspects claimed to be pointing towards the fact of plant consciousness, but usually
-without defining consciousness in general or plant consciousness in particular.
Developing such definitions, and making plans for further research, is necessary and
will provide material for other papers. The purpose here is the preliminary one of
surveying and classifying the various views of plant consciousness.
the other hand,
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Method and Material
The relevant literature ranges from highly specific articles on plant and brain biochemistry to New Age literature, from social studies of spirit mediums and witchcraft
to parapsychological tests, from RudolfSteiner's anthroposophical lectures to Rupert
Sheldrake's morphic fields. This wealth of material falls broadly into two categories,
which we may (without prejudice to their significance and recognizing a certain
overlap) label as 'scientific' and 'non-scientific'. The scientific category includes
plant sciences, parapsychology, and social sciences. The non-scientific category
includes narrations where people believe in or claim to sense the presence of plant
and tree spirits, and descriptions of how they work with so called 'nature intelligences'.
The former seems to involve a more or less passive awareness, while the latter
involves active interaction between man and independent, full bodied natural entities.
V/ithin this twofold division, there is a scale, from the view that 'plants do not have
consciousness' on the left extreme, to the view that 'plants are conscious beings' on
the right extreme (see Figure 1).
non-s ci entiíic lit eratur e
scientific literature
III
lIV
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I
I
50%
0%
plants do not
have consciousness
Figure
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descriptions of
believers in plant cs.
Clusters I to IV on a gradual scaie of belief in plant consciousness
I
100%
plants are
conscious beings
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ain bio-
In plant sciences, plants are regarded as organisms that interact and adjust to soil
diseases, and other physiological conditions. They are studied from a
:iochemical level (DNA-structure), up to a global level (greenhouse effect). A few
rarapsychologists have investigated whether (human) minds can influence plants.
\nthropologists and ethnobotanists have studied indigenous people who believe that
certain trees have spirits, or are inhabited by their ancestors. Whether and how such
beliefs could be considered factual is never at stake in such studies; instead they ask
ri'hat these cultures believe, usually imposing pre-given classifications such as 'animistic' and'primitive'. (Some modern ethnologists instead try to use the methods
and classifications of the group being studied, but we do not know of any studies of
this kind that have focused on plants.)
The scientific category and its various disciplines spread from the far left on the
scale of Figure 1, where plant consciousness is implicitly rejected, to the centre-right,
rvhere researchers describe how some people believe everything, including plants and
trees, to be conscious. The literature in the non-scientific category ranges from the
centre-right to the far right of Figure 1, where experimenters and reporters them'
selves claim to actively work with nature intelligences.
To simplify our presentation, the texts considered here are grouped into four
clusters in a sequence of increasing belief in plant consciousness. A discussion and
critique follows the discussion of each cluster.
lpes, climate,
tchcraft
Rupert
Classifi cafion of Material
r
egories,
certain
ncludes
ategory
of plant
rences'.
re latter
lntities.
rot have
ngs' on
217
Cluster I. In which plants are assumed not to have consciousness, but are
shown to have biological mechanisms which in humans would normally be
iated with consc io us ne ss.
Words like 'memorization','expression' and 'communication' in article titles like
'Memorization and delayed expression of regulatory messages in plants' (Desbiez et
al., 1984) and 'Root communication among desert shrubs' (Mahall & Callaway,
1991) seem to ascribe characteristics to plants which are usually associated with
living, conscious beings. In 'Plants bite back: insect-infested hosts starve out unwanted guests, and may even warn their neighbors' (Chen, 1990) the title takes plants
as conscious organisms: plants are 'hosts' which 'starve out' 'unwanted guests' and
even '\rr'arn their neighbors'.
assoc
Figure 2. Schematic drawing of
Bidens pilosus plantlet (from Desbiez et al., 1984).
In cases where cotyledon A has
been punctured and both cotyledons and top are cut off after the
I
100%
'tts are
beings
puncturing, a,rillary bud a develops
slower than bud ó. When the plantlet is not punctured and both cotyledons and top are cut off, the
growth rates ofbud a and á are the
2t8
A.H.M. NAGEL
The first paper (Desbiez et al., 1984) summarizes research done on the plant
species Bidens piloszs (Figure 2). When one of the first two leaves
cotyledons
of such a plantlet, which basically gro\vs symmetrical, is punctured and shortly
afterwards both cotyledons and top are cut off, the plantlet continues to grow
asymmetrically; it somehow 'stored the information' that it was punctured, or 'remembered' the injury. How such information is stored is still not well understood.
The second paper (Mahall & Callaway, 1991) gives experimental results on the
desert shrubs Ambrosia dumosa and Larrea tridentata. When these plants are grown
in chambers that allow root observation, intra- and inter-plant root communication
can be observed. The Ambrosia root systems appear capable of detecting and avoiding other Ambrosia and Larcea root systems, whereas Larrea roots inhibit other
Larrea andAmbrosia roots in their vicinity. These results suggest that the plants have
a 'capability of self-nonself recognition', but how the roots of an I mbrosia plant are
able to recognize as different the roots of other plants, even of its own species, is
unknown. Also unknown is why Larrea roots do not avoid other roots.
Regarding the research by Chen (1990), plants that defend themselves against
threatening insects, and send out a warning signal that is picked up by other plants,
seem able to exchange information.
Scientists in all fields often use such anthropomorphic language to sharpen intuitions and communicate ideas clearly, safe in the assumption that no one will believe
they literally impute consciousness to stars, atoms, computers, etc., because of the
widely shared assumptions of science itself. Thus in all areas of biology, the term
'communication' is commonly used in discussing mechanisms of information exchange at the molecular, cellular and organic levels (e.g. Amisino, I 993; Pitts, 1 990);
the phrase 'signal perception' is used similarly (Weiler, 1989). For example, high
light intensities, pollutants, or pathogen attacks may be imposed on plants to examine
their 'behaviour' under these 'stress conditions' (e.g. Bowler et a|.,7989).
The authors of texts cited in this cluster in no way intend to say that their research
proves that plants are conscious. The words in the titles and texts are metaphors for
complex plant phenomena that in some ways resemble phenomena in humans. These
texts do not support plant consciousness, but rather provide evidence for very
sophisticated and still unraveled interactions among plants of the same species, or of
different species, or with insects.
II. In which it is believed that plants must have 'something'
(cwareness?) since they respond to mental and paranormal activity of humans.
Some researchers have claimed experimental results showing that plants that have
been prayed for did better than plants that were ignored (Bloksma, 1995; Dossey,
1989; Loehr,1959; Miller, 1972; Vasse,1948), and that talking nicely to plants, or
abusing them verbally, influences their growth (Loehr, 1959). For instance, tomato
plants receiving friendly thoughts or spoken words each day for three to twenty
minutes, were reported to produce an average of 23oÁ more tomatoes per plant than
those having otherwise identical treatment (Hoffmann, 1992). Paranormal healers,
radiating energy directly or indirectly (via water) into seeds treated with a saline
solution, are claimed to significantly influence germination and growth of the seeds,
in that treated seeds recovered from the saline treatment but untreated seeds developed only slowly, if at all (Saklani, 1988, p. 67; Scofield & Hodges, 1991).
Cluster
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ARE PLANTS CONSCIOUS?
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219
Cleve Backster (1968; Stone, 1989) has connected plants to a polygraph (usually
measures electrical potentials. When
:eople are connected to a polygraph, larger changes in skin potential correspond to
:ersonal feelings, such as physical or emotional pain, or arousal by sexual fantasies.
3ackster noticed similar patterns in plants when a leaf is torn off, or when a plant
:3ceives loving thoughts, and interpreted this as showing that plants experience
-elings of pain and pleasure. In one experiment, plants also appeared to be aware of
:rine shrimps being killed in their immediate vicinity (Backster, 1968).
Others who duplicated Backster's experiments did not get the significant, repeat:ble outcomes that Backster claimed. Even after much trouble was taken to rule out
;nstable or varying circumstances like room temperature, still no significant correla:ion was detected between the mental activity of persons (or the death of brine
shrimps) and plants' electric leaf potentials (Galston & Slayman, 1981;Horowitz et
:1.,1975; Kmetz, 1977;Tompkins & Bird,1974, p. 33).
On the other hand, four years of research convinced Marcel Vogel that factors like
atmospheric pressure, temperature, and even fatigue and intrusion of critical personalities, influence plant awareness of, and responses to, thoughts, emotions and actions
or other events (see Figure 3). According to Vogel (1974, p. 301), there is 'a precise
and important interaction between the experimenter and the plant which is equal in
importance to the equipment being used'. He hypothesized that, in human-plant
communication, human beings are the active agents,'sensitizing' or'charging'the
plant to be receptive to thoughts and emotions.
::lled a lie-detector), an instrument which
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Figure 3. Graph of a split-1eaf philodendron connected to a polygraph, when mental and vocal
threats were made, and a tip of a leaf was actually burnt (Vogel, 1914, p. 30Q.
220
A.H.M. NAGEL
AccordingtoVogel (1974,pp.297,299),repeatabilityisnolongeraproblemwhen
a link is established between the experimenter and the plant. This is achieved by
'releasing an initial charge ofthought energy' to the plant. While 'charging' the plant,
the experimenter must quiet her/his conscious mind and body functions, and work in
a state as free of emotional disturbance as possible. In this way, the plant gets isolated
from secondary influences like light, temperature, atmospheric pressure, and electrical charges in the room. Only when the experimenter has charged the plant, may s/he,
or another person, focus her/his mind and cause the plant's response to feelings such
as love, angeÍ, excitement, and to issues like the act of damaging or destructing
another plant or another life form. The higher the level of emotional control the
experimenter can reach, the more precise the experimental results become. Vogel
also claimed that distance did not matter to his results. Graphs of plants connected to
a polygraph correlate with the experimenter's moods and actions even when they are
miles apart. Indifference to distance has also been noticed in prayer experiments
(Miller, 1972).
Kirlian photography is sometimes put forward
as proof for the effect of radiating
energy into a leaf, plant, or water. Named after its discoverer, Semyon D. Kirlian, it
is a photographic method that shows a field around the edges of plants, leafs, stones,
animals, humans, fingers, etc. (Gmelig Meijling & Gijsen, 1975; Tompkins & Bird,
1974, pp.215-18; Singer, 1981). There is considerable controversy about what, if
anything, is the nature of these fields.
The focus in the texts in this section is whether influences such as prayer, a friendly
attitude, and paranormal healing effect plants. Positive results have been reported,
and have been challenged, but explanations for the results are thin. At best, similar
experiments and explanations in other papers are cited, most often Cleve Backster's
article introducing the phrase 'primary perception'. Plants must have something like
a primary perception ability, he reasoned, because otherwise how could the graphs of
plants' electric potentials vary so much, and in accordance with events happening in
their surroundings? But (apart from Marcel Vogel) those who repeated Backster's
tests did not get the same results, and so could not verify primary perception in plant
life. Not only his results, but also Vogel's explanations are widely questioned in
scientific circles.
Moreover, even if 'primary perception' did exist in plants, this would not necessarily prove that plants are conscious. Prayer can be considered a form of mind
po\.ver, and experiments with mind power have also been conducted with nonliving
materials. It has been claimed that some people can move or twist objects without
touching them, e.g. paper clips inside glass globes (Hasted, 1981), or influence the
outcome of random number generators (Radin & Nelson, 1989). These results are
highly controversial, but the conclusion that plants must have something like consciousness because they respond to mind power cannot be supporled by such phenomena unless objects like spoons and random number generators are also
considered to have that particular' something'.
A further factor regarding Vogel's work should be considered. Working from the
assumption that prayer and healing do not and cannot influence matter, he developed
experiments to test whether prayer and healing might work after all. The subjects
chosen to test prayer or healing powers were plants, which were assumed to be
unconscious, neutral organisms. As a result of his experiments, Vogel not only
:,
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ARE PLANTS CONSCIOUS?
221
rlem when
became convinced that those powers do exist, but the idea that plants have perceptive
hieved by
' the plant,
ld rvork in
:rs isolated
.nd electri-
ability also began to make sense to him. This in turn modified his research question
to 'How can primary perception in plants be made visible in a repeatable experiment?' He then developed a new technique 'to charge a plant with thought energy'
in order to isolate it from outer conditions, so that plants' responses could be
registered repeatedly. So, not only did the research question itself change, but the
theoretical substructure changed in line with it. 'Thought energy' and 'primary
perception ability of plants' had become facts. This illustrates how concepts about
plants and the nature of reality influence the design of experiments in this area.
It also complicates discussions about Vogel's work, because for someone who is
not convinced that prayer and paranormal healing can actually influence (plant)
matter, and who believes plants are unaware/unconscious organisms, Vogel's
method of charging a plant with 'thought energy' is difficult to accept as a fact. Such
a person must first accept the kind of experiments that brought Vogel himself to
believe that plants have a primary perception ability and that thought is a force.
may s/he,
.
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Vogel
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Cluster
III.
In which it is held that plants do have 'something' (consciousness?)
because people actually see, experience or talk with nature spirits.
Social and anthropological studies have investigated many aspects of (indigenous)
knowledge on all continents. The relationship(s) people have with nature, what
function(s) certain rituals have, what role shamans fulfil in a community, which
animals, trees and plants in particular are believed to be holy or spirited, and so on,
are all related to religious beliefs and have an important impact on social structures
(e.g. Beattie & Middleton, 1969; Doornewaard, 1992; Elkin, 1994; Ford, 1979;
vitebsky, 1995). That everything on earth might have (something like) 'soul stuff ,
as is believed in many cultures, is a rather alien concept in current Western society,
but it makes sense to some clairvoyants, who often claim to see the auras of humans
and animals, and sometimes plants, flowers, and trees (see the pictures in Gmelig
\4eijling & Gijsen, 1975; Goelitz, 1997; Hodson, 1976; Roads, 1990). Here is a
clairvoyant observation of Geoffrey Hodson:
When examining bulbs growing in bowls, I have seen large numbers of . . . microscopic,
etheric creatures moving in and around the growing plants. They are visible at the etheric
level as points oflight playing around the stem and passing in and out ofthe bulb. They
absorb matter from the surrounding atmosphere, which they deposit on reentering the
tissues, and this process goes on continuously until the plant is full-grown. The creatures
are entirely self-absorbed and sufficiently self-conscious to experience a dim sense of
well-being and even of affection for the plant. When outside of it and absorbing matter,
they become enlarged and look like pale violet and lilac-coloured spheres about two
inches in diameter. Having expanded to the largest size of which they are capable they
return and, as stated above, re-enter the plant, into which they discharge the matter and
vital force which they have absorbed (Hodson, 1976,p.36).
Seeing auras of trees, stones, animals, and etheric life forms like fairies, elves,
gnomes and other creatures, as people have seriously reported (Evans-Wentz, 1994;
Hawken, 1975; Hodson, 1994; Hommersen, 1993; Van Gelder, 7994), is acknowledged by them to be ' special' . Even more special is having mystical experiences with
elements of nature; these experiences always make strong impressions. one such
experience is described by Patrice Somé ( 1 994). During the initiation rites of his tribe
222
A.H.M. NAGEL
in Burkina Faso, Somé was told by his coaches to pick a tree and to look at it until he
really saw the tree. It took him many hours before he met and deeply sensed the
'green lady' of his chosen tree, and understood what the elders had meant by 'really
seeing' the tree. The tree was not just a tree, it was much more. The 'green lady' was
an energy form, a living entity with tremendous strong and overwhelming powers.
Never in his life had he felt so deeply loved and cared for.
Mystic encounters with nature are also reported by Michael Roads, an Englishman
who for ten years had a farm in Tasmania, and who now gives workshops around the
world, and writes about his experiences with nature. In one account, Roads describes
his feeling that his consciousness had 'shifted' to being the last English elm on earth
(Roads, 1994, pp.2648). The experience gave him a perception of 'tree' consciousness as immortal, from which he drew the wider inference that consciousness
generally always just 'is', and is not bounded by space and time. Elsewhere Roads
(1990, pp. aa-58) tells of finding his consciousness being taken back to his time as
a farmer in Tasmania. In the experience, his consciousness had shifted and expanded
so that he was both himself (the-farmer-of-before) and also the blackberry vines he
was spraying with toxic chemicals. As blackberry, he felt not only that the poison was
including the life of humanity
disturbing his 'blackberry energy', but that all life
was affected, because he felt that in reality all is One. After Roads returned to
normal consciousness, he felt he understood at a deeper level something that had
happened years before. While spraying his blackberry fields, he had succumbed to an
had rolled
unlike himself
overwhelming urge to take a nap, and on waking up
home,
and
never
sprayed
the
engine,
driven
the hose, climbed on to the tractor, started
pesticides on blackberries again. Until this mystical experience, he had not understood why his change in behaviour atïhaï time had been so drastic. Now that he had
felt the Oneness of all, he did.
Besides seeing and experiencing the etheric and/or mystic aspects of nature, Roads
also writes about conversations with nature. During the last 25 years many people
have written about their communication with what appear to be personality sources
outside their conscious mind. The phenomenon is called 'channelling' (Hastings,
1991; Klimo, 1988). A channeller listens carefully ('tunes into a certain vibration'),
and hears what a particular unit of consciousness says, which s/he then speaks out
loud, or writes down. It is possible to ask the channelled source questions and have
a meaningful conversation.
According to these writers, when nature intelligences are channelled, a whole
range of entities can come through, as all elements of nature appeaÍ to be available.
All plant and animal species, all woods, mountains, caves, rivers and rock formations
seem to have a ' soul' , a consciousness of their own. Often the unit of consciousness
of plant and tree species is called a'deva', a sanskrit word for'shining one', used to
describe what is understood as an embodiment of creative intelligence that functions
in an architectural and organizational kind of mode. A 'nature spirit' too is considered
to be an embodiment of creative intelligence, but of another order. Nature spirits are
the builders. They shift energy that has been formulated on the devic level to the
physical level.
Although it is at this point impossible to judge whether channelled information is
pure fiction, or might contain (some) truth, it obviously relates to this paper's subject,
C/ir
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ARE PLANTS CONSCIOUS?
;i
it until he
sensed the
,r b1 'really
r 1ad1" was
::e powers.
l:lElishman
, :round the
describes
1s
"n on earth
;onsciousr-iciousness
:ere Roads
his time as
i erpanded
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roison was
,l humanity
:eturned to
--g that had
inbed to an
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a:rv people
::r- sources
r Hastings,
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irmations
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223
It is an excerpt from the corn deva, as channelled by Robert
Shapiro, and shows how this deva sees itself in relation to mankind and earth.
so an example is given.
I
am the plant you refer to as corn. I speak to you as the Deva associated with our
super-consciousness, the Corn Goddess. I have a very strong spiritual body that not only
connects me cosmically to my point of origin but also embraces the earth as a nurturing
parent. . .
When I am planted in a field, I choose to feel every row and plant as a unit. Therefore, I
do not experience spatial references in the same way as you; I feel myself as the entire
field of plants. When an area of corn is accidentally destroyed, some element of protest
is expressed from the rest ofthe corn. Corn shrivels a bit or makes a sound that only the
observant farmer notices. I do not shrink out of fear; instead I understand that I am here
to sustain you. I am prepared, at any moment, to offer myself in support ofmy true purpose
on this planet . . .
I have a sense of touch similar to that of the human being. I know when I am touched,
and I am aware when someone or something is near that is not of my own kind. I have a
strong energy field that radiates with an awareness of up to six feet. I have an ability to
respond to the change in weather conditions and to the changes from day to night.
Diseases that affect a crop can be assisted through meditation or prayerful communications. Earth must provide nourishment for all, not just a specific few; this is why birds
must occasionally invade the crops. They themselves sustain other creatures, even
humans. The diseases which wipe out a crop provide for the insect kingdom (Shapiro &
Rapkin, 1991, pp. 27 -9).
That a shift has been made from believing 'plants are unaware and unconscious
organisms' to 'plants are aware and do have consciousness' is obvious in the texts
mentioned in this and the following sections. They deal with observations on another
level and are paranormal and/or mystical in nature. The nature of reality seems to
have an additional, non-physical dimension to it, in which people sense more subtle
(spiritual?) energies of nature. This lends it an animistic slant, which may appear
fresh and new, but in fact is ancient.
Cluster
IV. In which
plants are treated as conscious beings with which man can
cooperate.
In the mid and late 1960's, a family living in a caravan park in Findhorn, a small
village on the north-east coast of Scotland, grew some very healthy vegetables and
flowers on barren, sandy soil. when forty pound cabbages and broccoli that was
nearly too heavy to lift appeared, it became obvious that something extraordinary was
going on. The family said the secret of this vital abundance was their cooperation
with the nature spirits and devas (Hawken, 1975; Tompkins & Bird, 1974,
pp.372-83). One of the group, Dorothy Maclean (1990) claimed to communicate
telepathically with the nature intelligences; she channelled. Whenever there was a
problem in the garden she consulted the deva ofa parlicular species or the 'overlighting deva' ofthe Findhorn garden. These then gave advice. For instance, they would
say what kind of treatment would be best for optimal growth. The head of the family,
Peter Caddy, the gardener, followed precisely the instructions Maclean received. If
plants had to be moved, the deva was informed, so that the plants had time to
withdraw energies from their roots. The move thus went more easily for both man
(who did not have to pull strongly to get the roots out), and plants (which were less
224
damaged).
A.H.M. NAGEL
It was said that the devas were pleased about the fact they were listened
to, and in return thrived in harmony with the family living from the vegetables and
fruits that the garden produced.
Through the amazing stories about the tremendous growth and richness of the
Findhorn garden, the place attracted many visitors who wanted to see this miracle
with their own eyes. A horlicultural adviser called. He sampled the soil for analysis,
at first he had advised artificial fertilizers
and with some bewilderment
- because
acknowledged that
since he thought that Caddy's compost would be inadequate
he had found no deficiencies, not even of trace elements (Tompkins &Bird,7974,
p. 378). An expert on roses tested Caddy by advising him to plant roses that could
not possibly grow in Findhorn's climate and soil. Caddy, not knowing he was being
tested, did as advised. The next summer, to the expert's amazement, he found 'banks
of roses leaning over the roadway' (Hawken, 1975, p. 172).
Stephen Clark (1992) says it is interesting to notice how Caddy, who spent ten to
twelve hours a day, seven days a week working in the garden, attributed the garden's
success wholly to the help of the nature spirits. Quite striking also is the way that over
the years the people of Findhorn turned the story more or less into a myth. When
visitors stayed and a community developed, others took over Caddy's gardening
activities and the garden lost its abundance. As time went on, the focus of the
community simply shifted from growing vegetables to growing a community and
growing people. In the minds of the community members this did not mean the
garden experiment was over, nor that it failed: the period when the family in Findhorn
created its miraculous garden is now considered to have been the seed for the
Findhorn community's own later development.
In a way, Machaelle Small Wright (1983, 1990,1993; see also McGonagle, 1993;
Roads, 1987; Young, 1984, pp.22346) has continued where Findhorn left off.
Wright, inspired by a book about Findhorn, in 1976began to garden 33 acres in
Virginia, USA. From the beginning, she intended to work in cooperation with the
nature intelligences. She calls the method she developed 'co-creative gardening', and
her garden, Perelandra, has become very beautiful and also a kind ofresearch station
where she and nature experiment in partnership. For, in her view, nature must learn
ways to get information through to the person asking the questions. Nature just
'knows' how much it needs in nutrients and does not 'think' in amounts of inches or
grams. Humans do. So nature has to learn to measure in human quantities. Also,
working in partnership with nature does not imply that everything in the garden goes
easily and smoothly. As with all partnerships, Wright explains, both must adjust, both
must give and take, and get to know each other.
According to Wright's insights, nature always tries to find an optimal balance in
the overall energy of the garden and beyond. If the owner says s/he wants carrots,
potatoes and gardenias in the garden, nature goes along with those wishes. When
asked, the deva(s) can advise otherwise. The advice given is always set against the
bigger picture, meaning that the larger context of the area is included, the physical
component (the animals, soil, insects) as well as the social component (mankind). In
Wright's experience, crops will produce just as much, if not more, compared to
current methods which do not cooperate with nature. Nature does not need chemical
fertilizers and pesticides. lt is not a mistake for mankind to use them, the devas say,
because humanity has learned, and is still learning, from this experience.
ARE PLANTS CONSCIOUS?
listened
bles and
225
Íhe
Tri'o of the three books Wright (1990; 1993) has written about her partnership with
are handbooks instructing readers how to cooperate with nature intelligences.
-:: key in co-creative gardening is communication. Wright claims to telepathically
:r:r the devas and nature spirits. (In her own opinion she does not channel but
::rnslates'; she is in full control of her own consciousness, and her physical being is
':: Íaken over by nature intelligences.) Furthermore, she relies in her communication
-: a form of 'kinesiology', muscle testing. She asks nature plain yes/no questions,
.:rd sees with a simple muscle test if the answer is yes or no.
The books on working with nature intelligences provide, beyond a new way of
;ardening, even up to the level of farming, a complete outlook on life itself.
lr'erything on earth, even everything in the cosmos is alive, moving, changing,
_towing, evolving; everything, in one way or another, is conscious and aware.
\othing of nature has to prove it is conscious, it just is. The devas and nature spirits
.av through their channels that it is mankind who has decided it is the only true
;onscious creature on earth. They say that by having done this, humans show they do
:lot understand their own true nature.
The idea of an extra dimension, considered at the end of the previous section, might
:e rejected for the cases in cluster IIL Auras, sensing subtle energies, etc. are not for
all to see or feel, and Roads' and Shapiro's channellings might be sheer fantasy,
products of their imaginations. Also, the energy fields seen in Kirlian photos
- that
are often considered to be the aura psychics can see
have been discussed in terms
of electrical properties (Singer, l98l). But in the examples of this cluster, anyone can
observe the extraordinary richness in the Findhorn garden; and anyone can experi-
:.1993;
eft off.
icres in
;ith the
vital atmosphere at Perelandra. These are plain facts.
Yet when it comes to explaning these facts, opposing views surface. Did Dorothy
Maclean, and does Machaelle Small Wright, really work with nature intelligences as
they claim? If not, how did they develop their special gardens? A rationalistic sceptic
might try to explain these facts within reductionistic a biological/physical/chemical
;s
of the
miracle
nall
sis.
:rtilizers
ged that
d^ r974.
at could
as being
l'banks
]t ten to
nrden's
hat over
L.
\Vhen
rdening
;
of
the
Liry and
ean the
indhorn
for
:i:ire
ence the
rg', and
station
st leam
re just
ches or
. Also,
:n goes
n. both
mce in
:arrots,
\\1ien
nst the
r1'sical
framework: nature intelligences and spiritual dimensions could not be responsible for
the facts perceived in Findhorn and Perelandra; the physical circumstances, by sheer
coincidence, might have been perfect for nature to develop abundantly. This is
possible, but questions remain: Where did Maclean and Wright get their information
on planting rhythms, garden layout, maintenance procedures, etc.? Is it only fantasy
at work? Does the channelled information stem from the plant kingdom, or is there
some undiscovered knowledgable part of the human mind that is perhaps related to
having a 'green thumb'? Having a green thumb means having a talent for gardening,
but it does not explain anything. Scientists who study channelling cannot say exactly
what channelling is, but they do note that the phenomenon can be traced back for
centuries (Hastings, 1991; Klimo, 1988; Riordan, 1993). In many cases, so-called
chanelled information can be traced to the chaneller's own rnind, but Arthur Hastings
(1991) and Jon Klimo (1988) are quite certain that not all channelled information can
stem from the channeller's own mind.1
nd).In
red to
emical
as say,
I
Aft., this paper was completed, three further books (Bdolak, 1991 ; Bridges, I 993; Cowan, I 995)
which would fall within the third or fourth clusters came to my notice, but there has not yet been
time to investigate their claims.
226
A.H.M. NAGEL
Discussion
Nowadays, it is channelled information, clairvoyant observations and mystical experiences that lead people to belief in plant consciousness. Observations of this kind are
not, however, scientific; they are subjective and not repeatable' Science requires
by anyone. But this raises a problem
observations that are objective and repeatable
have a highly specialized educaresearchers
in the philosophy of science: Scientific
tion, and only those who have had the same training can repeat their experiments.
perhaps, in a similar way, people can be trained to see or feel the more subtle forms
ofenergy. Ifthis is accepted, then it is not sound to argue that clairvoyant observations
are subjective and invalid, while laboratory observations are objective and valid.
Noting this philosophical problem, Ray Hyman (1981) still concludes that the
results of parapsychological experiments can be dismissed because the experiments
do not conform to scientific standards. It seems justifiable to extrapolate his conclusion to the mainly 'one man laboratory' experiments of Cleve Backster and Marcel
Vogel, and to the Findhorn and Perelandra cases where definitely no standard
scientific research has been conducted. The issue for experiments with prayer and a
friendly attitude is, as mentioned already, different. Although it is unexplained why,
in some cases at least, plants appear to respond to prayers and friendly words, the fact
that plants did so respond would not in any case prove plant consciousness. Ergo, the
critical/sceptical approach to plant consciousness appears to win the debate over the
believers in nature intelligences (and other forms of plant consciousness).
However, believers in plant consciousness Seem not to be bothered by such a
defeat. Performing perfectly controlled and repeatable experiments to (dis)prove
plant consciousness, even those designed by Vogel, seems pointless from the viewpoints of mystics, neo-animistists, and New Agers. Experiencing a mystical moment
of the 'Oneness of All', feeling that reality as a whole is conscious, as testified in many
accounts, makes proofs of plant consciousness through scientific experiments seem
trivial. The nature of All-consciousness is not to be discovered through experiments
where mind and matter, humans and nature are viewed as two different, separate
no such separation exists'
(opposed) things, if- as appears from this perspective
On the other hand, to reject science completely, on account of underlying assumptions like its mind/matter duality and repeatability requirements, would be extreme;
scientific research is too much a part of our society. Besides, the assumptions of
science are already being questioned by scientists themseives (e'g. Berman, 1981;
Goguen et al.,1994;Harman, 1988). One part of this trend is Goethian phenomenology, 'a monistic/holistic, appropriately participatory, scientific approach to understanding nature' (Beekman & Van Mansvelt, 1995, p. 6; Kranich, 1993). This method,
originally developed by the great German writer Johann W' von Goethe (17 49-1832),
was given theoretical grounding and further explanation by Rudolf Steiner (1861lg15), and developed considerably further by others later this century. It is characÍerized by a special attention to the complete process that links the observer to the
observed. The observed can only be fully known if the observer is aware of her/his
own opinions and values concerning the observed. By really observing nature' a
relationship develops between observer and observed, so that the observer becomes
aware of dimensions not normally comprehended with the rational mind. From such
a stance, nature is experienced more fully than can be described in the natural
ARE PLANTS CONSCIOUS?
'::ences,
iqr
:equi res
.3roblem
- !uuLd-
_. lrlt!1Lt:.
Le forms
en'ations
, ^I:J
rhat the
:riments
i ,-onclu-
i \Íarcel
s:andard
:r and a
i
.ei u'hy,
:ne fact
i:eo. the
.rver the
such
s
iprove
:l many
:S SCCIn
ri ments
.parate
i exists.
-:suftp_
iireme;
;ons of
i 981;
nenolurderrethod,
1 832),
'Qt1
- ou I -
n3rac-
:o the
:er his
:ire,
a
aomes
: -such
:arural
ii
,t
l
1
i
a
.: r-ie.uvroment
.
and ultimately, as Steiner has said, 'you may no longer see anything but an
of the spiritual life lying at the foundation of everything!' (Steiner,
,984, p.25).
In a way, this Goethian phenomenological approach is similar to techniques of
-rdigenous learning. When the tribal chiefs of Patrice Some ( 1 994) told the initiates
:,. really look at a tree, the initiates could see and sense the spiritual life behind the
:r1'sical form of a tree; they experienced a depth in nature that is not seen with the
:ive physical senses.
More recent challenges to the foundations of science appeff in the work of Rupert
Sheldrake (1988) and James Lovelock (1979). The former presents a hypothesis of
'lbrmative causation', postulating that the nature of things, animals, molecules,
rlants, and human beings, depends on 'morphogenetic fields'. These nonmaterial
i-relds are potential organizing patterns of influence that contain within themselves a
memory of their previous physical existence. The process by which the past becomes
present within morphic fields is called 'morphic resonance', involving the transmission of 'formative causal influences' through both space and time.
Lovelock considers our planet to be a self regulating organism, called Gaia after
the Greek goddess Earth. He postulates that 'the climate and chemical composition
of the earth's surface environment is, and has been, actively regulated at a state
tolerable for the biota by the biota' (Lovelock, 1991, p. 30). Both hypotheses have
aroused many controversies within the scientific community about, among other
issues, the testability of the hypotheses. Opposing views about science's basic
assumptions often play an important but covert role in these debates. This adds to the
complexity of discussing plant consciousness, for the following reason.
People believing in the existence ofnature intelligences (the far right ofFigure l),
search for scientific ideas that accord with their beliefs, and find them in the ideas of
Sheldrake and Lovelock (Altman, 1995, pp. 45-6; Beekman, 1995; GoeIitz, l99l;
Hommersen, 1993; Kerner & Kerner, 1992; Lindfield, 1986; Stone, 1988). Thus,
'deva' can be substituted for 'morphic field', and viewing the earth as an organism
fits with neo-animistic beliefs. People questioning the fundamental assumptions of
science (around the middle of Figure 1), bring up Findhorn and Backster to support
their critical point of view (Dossey, 1989; O'Leary, 1989; Pedlar, 1979, p.172;
Sheldrake, 1991). It seems that everyone has a personal agenda, but all have one
common 'opponent', namely that part of science and society that has no place for the
belief that plants could be conscious (the far left of Figure 1). Add to this the fact that
the plant consciousness issues, especially those in the New Age literature, are not
covered in biology and plant sciences, nor in studies ofconsciousness, and it becomes
clear why the subject of this paper is so complicated and sensitive. Much more is
involved than just a set of hypotheses and experiments: People's diverse world views
(their basic assumptions), the variety in their style and line of argument, the scattered
nature of the literature available, all add to the complexity of the task of classifying
views of plant consciousness.
:rlpression
r.\l-r-
. k;nj are
.
227
Concluding Remarks
The texts discussed here cannot give a decisive answer to the question of plant
consciousness. The major input for renewed belief in plant consciousness is now
228
A.H.M. NAGEL
mainly outside the scope of biologists and plant scientists, and many people take the
view of life in which All is conscious to be just as legitimate as the more scientific
worldview that aÍmost certain aspects of nature are conscious. It might be fruitful for
the different views of plant consciousness to confront each another. Arguments about
plant consciousness will not necessarily bring a resolution; they will probably merely
reinforce tightly held beliefs about the nature of reality. Even so, open discussions
will at least bring such (often implicit) views and beliefs to the surface itself a
-
will let participants
valuable process that can sharpen our rational mind
- and
experience for themselves the diversity of views that can be held by legitimate
members of society.
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;'-:--l.l:'l:'-r.
\'1.-,-
-=:
.- :"ti
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lake the
:ientific
irful for
ts about
mereiy
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itself
a
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Article submitted August 1995, revised April 1996.
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